Friday, November 11, 2016

Empire of the Son: Tetsuro Shigematsu remembers his father who remembers WWII

Image from the Cultch

Actor, broadcaster, and writer Tetsuro Shigematsu grew into middle age, watched his children grow and his father die. He was moved to create a show that would help him and his audiences bridge old gaps between past and present, fathers and sons.

Tetsuro's father, Mr. Akira Shigematsu, was a well-known broadcaster on Radio Canada International. Introverted, yet familiar to listeners around the world, he embodied traditional ideals of stoicism, respect and modesty.

With the father in his final illness, the son finally interviewed him about his experiences of World War II. Tetsuro learned for the first time how close his Japanese father had been to the horrific bombing of Hiroshima, and how he'd seen his own home scorched out of existence during the brutal firebombing of his home city.

This one-man show is Shigematsu's unique and tender effort to make peace with abysses of generation and culture, come to terms the loss of his parent, and give him his due. This show evokes the universal joy and pain of father relationships, making audiences weep and laugh by turns.

Launched last year and sold-out in advance, this year's run at the Cultch (until November 13) has also been sold out. After that, the show goes on to Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal, Tetsuro's second home town (after London, England, where Dad worked for the BBC). The play has also been published in book form.

Today, as I always do on Remembrance Day, I think about my own father, dead these twenty-eight years. He also fought in WWII, but on the other side. Dad was on convoy duty during the Battle of the Atlantic.

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